In “Have You Been Charged with a Criminal Offence?” Part 1, I wrote about the five ways in which someone who has been convicted of an offense can still receive relief from that conviction or plea of guilty. The justice system is a particular thing that requires a key knowledge of the rules of procedure and of evidence in order to be able to obtain a fair trial. However, even despite a fair trial and a fair procedure, it is still possible to receive a result that is not fair. In my previous blog I discussed rule 24 motions, rule 32 motions, appeals and motions to modify sentence and terms of probation. One possible avenue of relief that I did not discuss is a rule 20 motion for a judgment of acquittal. Typically a rule 20 motion is made in the middle of the trial after the State has concluded the presentation of its case and before the defense makes the decision to put on their case. The rule 20 motion is based on the theory that if there’s not enough evidence to get past a rule 20 motion then the case should not proceed to a jury deliberation where a jury might make the wrong decision and a guilty verdict is entered against the defendant when there’s not enough evidence to support it. Any good trial lawyer will make a rule 20 motion prior to even be getting to put on the defense. If the judge can be convinced at that point time to do to grant the motion then the defendant wins and the case is over.
The standard for a rule 20 motion is that if the evidence viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution is not enough to equal substantial evidence to support a conviction then the motion should be granted and the case should be dismissed. Rule 20 also allows the defendant to re-urge or renew the motion for directed verdict at the end of the case. Such a motion can be made within 10 days after a guilty verdict has been given.
Several years ago, I had a client who was charged with DUI. The issue in the case was whether or not the defendant was driving or in actual physical control of the vehicle. There was no evidence that the defendant was driving while impaired as there were no witnesses including the police officer who saw the defendant driving the vehicle. However, the defendant was found in the vehicle while it was running. DUI law in Arizona allows for someone who is in actual physical control of the vehicle to still be guilty even if they’re not driving the vehicle down the road. However, this defendant was pulled off of the road, the vehicle was in park, the defendant was not touching the steering wheel or the other driving controls, the keys were in the ignition merely to allow the use of the climate controls and the heater to use the vehicle as a shelter while the defendant waited for the impaired condition to subside to the point where driving was no longer illegal.
In my presentation of our case and in my closing argument I presented evidence that the defendant was not driving the vehicle. I argued to the jury that the defendant was charged with two offenses. The first offense accused the defendant of driving or being an actual physical control while the defendants ability was impaired to the slightest degree. The second charge accused the defendant of driving or being in actual physical control with a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit. I told the jury that the defendants ability to drive was clearly impaired with regard to the first allegation. I told the jury that the defendants but alcohol concentration was clearly above the legal limit with regard to the second allegation. I then told the jury that the defendant was either guilty of both offenses because both offenses required proof of driving or being in actual physical control or the defendant was not guilty of both offenses. I explained to the jury that the driving or actual physical control element of both offenses was exactly the same and that if they found him to be driving or an actual physical control of the first count then that decision implied that he was also driving or an actual physical control of the second. I told them that there was no evidence presented by the state that indicated defendant had ever driven that vehicle while impaired. The only issue is whether not defendant was in actual physical control.
After closing arguments concluded, the court instructed the jury and gave them written instructions with the elements of the offense and a place for them to sign the verdict form. After deliberating the jury returned a verdict of not guilty with regard to the first offense of driving or being in actual physical control while impaired to the slightest degree. With regard to the second offense of having a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit, the jury returned a verdict of guilty. This count, as mentioned before, required the jury to find that defendant was driving or an actual physical control. I was baffled by the verdict. It had been clearly explained and argued to the jury that it was impossible to find guilt on one and not guilty of the other. I specifically said that if defendant was guilty of one offense that he was guilty of both of the offenses because the only issue in the case was whether not defendant was in actual physical control. My client had admitted to being impaired and that the blood alcohol was above the legal limit. After the verdict was received, I requested the courts permission to go back and speak with the jury. This is a common request and allows both parties in the case to receive insight into the case and the verdict. The judge requested that she speak with them first and when she came back into the court room she informed the parties that the jury had made a mistake in their verdict. The jury believed that by finding the defendant not guilty of count one that they were telling the parties that they did not believe that the defendant was in actual physical control of the vehicle. That verdict was consistent with the arguments and with the evidence in the case. The jury told the judge and the court later on the record that they believed that by finding the defendant guilty of count 2 all they were doing was saying that the blood alcohol concentration was above the legal limit. They came back into the court and each said on the record that they did not believe the defendant was driving or in actual physical control. As a result of this, I made a motion pursuant to rule 20 for a judgment of acquittal. The judge willingly granted that motion and my client who just moments before was guilty was found not guilty and by the judge despite the verdict that have been given.
In future blog entries, I will explore each of these forms of relief in detail. Until then, this blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please feel free to contact Mesa Criminal Attorney, Garrett L. Smith at 480-540-6021 log on to www.mycriminaldefenselawyeraz.com, or contact an attorney in your area.